More than maintenance: 6 upgrades that will make your multifamilies stand out

Laurie Mega
| 8 min. read

As you continue to improve your multifamily portfolio, you may be planning maintenance and upgrades to make your buildings more attractive to current and prospective residents.

But have you thought about going beyond your usual landscaping and building refreshes to improve your multifamily resident retention? What resident retention strategies have you used? There are bigger upgrades you can make that can expand your resident base, save you money and make your current residents happier and more comfortable in their homes. You can also charge a premium rent or generate new revenue streams from the right amenities for your renters.

The apartment and multifamily market is strong, and as Americans move back to urban areas and forgo buying a house, multifamily properties are using amenities to attract (and retain) residents.

There are so many hot new upgrades and amenities property managers are adding to their multifamily properties. How do you know which are right for you?

Here are some of the hottest amenity trends and how to determine whether they’re worth the investment.

#1: Parking Lot Transformation

According to the Pew Research Center, the use of ride sharing apps increased dramatically between 2015, when just 15 percent of Americans said they had used a ride sharing service, and 2018, when 36 percent of U.S. adults had used one.

At the same time, fewer Americans are buying new cars.

Instead, they’re relying on car share apps like Uber and Lyft, as well as bike share and scooter share programs like Lime and Zagster. In fact, car sharing companies saw 12 percent growth in 2018 alone. And there were 35 million trips on shared bikes in the U.S. in 2017.

As Americans’ means of transportation shifts, the need for rows and rows of parking spaces is becoming less necessary. In fact, Architecture Magazine has already noted a disruption in building design because of this shift.

With that said, is it time to reconsider your parking situation? If you find your residents requesting their own parking spots less and less, you may want to take the opportunity to downsize your parking lot and install outdoor spaces your residents would find appealing.

An outdoor gym, dog park or common area for social gatherings may suit your residents better than parking spaces (more on those in a minute).

This is a big change that can impact your value prop, so make sure your resident population is game for it—as there can still be sizeable gaps by generation and geographic location. The Pew Research Center uncovered, for instance, that while a little more than half of Americans between 18 and 29 had used a ride sharing app in 2018, just a little less than a quarter of Americans over 50 have. And it’s important to note that on the whole, parking spaces are viewed as a major benefit to renters—especially those outside of urban areas.

And if you do see your residents taking advantage of micro-mobility or car sharing trends, make some space at your property. Provide a spot to leave dockless bikes and scooters or a pick-up and drop-off site for Uber and Lyft.

#2: Shared Workspaces

The drop in car sales isn’t only a result of how people think about transportation. It’s also affected by how people think about work, as well.

More and more Americans are looking for jobs that allow them to work remotely, whether that be through a full-time position or through the gig economy.

In 2017, there were 57.3 million freelancers in America. And in a 2018 survey of 1,000 hiring managers, respondents expected 38 percent of their workforce would be working remotely in the next decade.

At the same time, the popularity of shared workspaces like WeWork is rising, but they cost serious money.

Think about how attractive a shared workspace in your complex would be to remote workers.

In fact, Building Construction and Design Magazine calls teleworking spaces a trend to watch.

This isn’t a very expensive upgrade to make. If you have a little-used common area or conference room, consider changing the layout to include large tables with electrical and USB outlets, comfortable chairs and footstools where workers can put their feet up, and even cozy corners where residents can curl up with their laptops.

You can even include a few telephone booths for private phone conversations. Some companies like ROOM level-up their phone booths and make them sound-proof, so other workers aren’t disturbed and conversations aren’t overheard.

You could even do something as simple as offering or upgrading your free Wifi. Allowing residents to access Wifi not only in shared workspaces, but around the property is almost expected with Millennial and Gen Z residents.

Pro tip: Before you make these changes, take a survey of your residents. Ask them if they work from home and if a common workspace would be attractive for them. If the response is overwhelmingly positive, you have your answer.

#3: Green Upgrades

Making upgrades that make your multifamily properties greener and reduce your carbon footprint are a win on two fronts: You and your residents can save money on utilities and you can attract a certain customer base with your reputation as an Earth-friendly residential community.

Here are some green upgrades you could make:

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Solar Panels

While the upfront cost of installing solar panels may cause sticker shock, the overall savings on energy bills as well as the available tax credits will help you recoup those costs.

Talk to your local solar panel and utility providers to get a good picture of how much you and your residents can save in the long run.

Composting

Offering residents the opportunity to compost can save on garbage storage and collection. The compost created can be used to fertilize community gardens, reducing your gardening budget. And if the property doesn’t have the space for a legitimate compost area, there are newer companies like CERO that will work with you to collect your building’s organic food waste.

Seattle’s government site offers tips on creating rules around composting and appointing a resident volunteer to run your composting program.

Again, this is not an expensive upgrade, as long as residents are willing to pitch in. Hold community meetings to discuss the prospect and get a read on interest.

Smart HVAC Systems, Lighting and Appliances

Smart utility and appliance systems are a great way to save money on electricity, oil and gas. Residents can program thermostats to turn on HVAC systems only when they’re necessary. They can control lights from anywhere they may be to reduce the use of electricity.

Smart technology can even make your multifamily properties safer. For instance, if your residents accidentally leave their smart oven on, they will get an alert and can turn it off with their phone.  Or, they can control front door locks to let in children coming home from school or visitors coming to stay for a few days.

Charging Stations for Electric Cars

This one may not save you money, but it will attract residents looking to reduce their own carbon footprint. Making charging stations available is an upgrade that will allow you to charge a little more money.

According to a Carmax survey, electric and hybrid car owners are pretty evenly distributed among age groups, but a large percentage of them live on the West Coast. Consider your population and the population you’re trying to attract. Then, perhaps, install one or two and see how much use they get.

#4: Wellness Spaces

Last year, The Los Angeles Times reported on the increased interest in wellness-focused communities within their multifamily properties. Those communities include walking paths, yoga rooms and even massage centers and spas.

In fact, the CDC and the U.S. Green Building Council have created guidelines and certifications for multifamily properties who want to create communities that “foster occupants’ physical, mental, and social well-being.”

This is a trend that has moved from a niche segment of the population to the mainstream. As a result, multifamily properties are building community gardens, meditation spaces and outdoor fitness centers to address residents’ growing requests.

But that doesn’t mean you have to get the certifications or install a state-of-the-art spa. Including even a simple, inexpensive meditation room could increase the value of your property.  

#5: Common Areas

In addition to fitness amenities (and events) that residents want, The LA Times notes that residents are looking for community spaces that bring neighbors together.

Common cooking spaces, dog runs, rooftop decks, common areas and the above-mentioned community gardens are just a few of those places residents can gather and get to know each other. And, of course, having a resident site is a great tool to use so you can communicate events on your building’s social calendar.

#6: Package Delivery Rooms

According to trade publication Transport Topics, e-commerce drove package delivery up 48 percent between 2015 and 2017, and it’s not slowing down.

Now, residents get everything from electronics to clothing subscription boxes to groceries delivered to their homes, and they want a secure place for delivery companies to leave them.

As a result, more and more multifamily properties are installing package delivery rooms for residents, according to BD+C.

The good news is that implementing technology in mail rooms is becoming more commonplace, especially considering. Delivery personnel use touchscreens to select a resident’s name and package type. A mailbox opens up and the delivery person leaves the package. The resident gets a text with a PIN to open the mailbox.

When it comes to attracting and keeping residents, amenities are now a must. And there are a few running themes in the upgrades mentioned above. Most of them foster a sense of community and provide convenience and savings through tech.

And that’s really what residents are looking for now: amenities that provide convenience and a sense of community.

Determining which ones will be a return on investment for your property is a matter of knowing your residents and the kinds of residents you want to attract, and asking them what kinds of upgrades they would like to see. As long as you communicate, listen, and measure what your residents use, you’ll be aware of the enhancements that will best position your multifamily properties for what the market demands.

Read more on Maintenance & Improvements
Laurie Mega

Laurie Mega

Laurie Mega has planned, written, and edited content on a variety of subjects. Her work has been published by HomeandGarden.com, The Economist, Philips Lifeline, and FamilyEducation, among others. She lives in the Greater Boston Area with her husband and two boys.

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